by Damon Martin
March 5th, 1999 seems like so long ago, but in the mind of Chuck Liddell that date will stick in his mind forever. That was the day that he made his second appearance inside of the UFC’s octagon and for the first time in his short career he tasted defeat. He was handed this loss by Jeremy Horn, a veteran fighter and standout of the Miletich Fighting Systems. Horn was making his third appearance in the UFC at the time and beating Liddell was his first win in the octagon after losing his first two times, both to very experienced fighters in Frank Shamrock and Ebenezer Fontes Braga. Now over six years have passed and both fighters’ careers have gone in very different directions.
Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell, since 1999, has proven to be one of the most dangerous fighters in all of mixed martial arts and is now seen as the face of the UFC, fighting as their light heavyweight champion. Since his debut for the UFC in 1998, Liddell has only fought outside of the octagon a handful of times, so his home is definitely inside the cage, although he has had success in Pride’s ring as well. Liddell is known as a very lethal striker with devastating hands and vicious kicks to back him up as well. One of the things that makes Liddell so great is his willingness to take on any opponent and his record looks like a who’s who of MMA, as he has never backed down from any challenge.
On the road to the light heavyweight championship, Liddell encountered a few bumps along the way to the top. His first challenge came when his “friend” Tito Ortiz was the champion and Liddell was the clear cut number 1 contender, but couldn’t seem to get Ortiz in the octagon for a title shot. Ortiz claimed it was their longtime friendship and a lack of money on the table that prevented the fight, but Liddell seemed more than ready to step up and take on Ortiz at anytime. The UFC eventually became fed up with the demands of Tito Ortiz and decided to put Liddell in the cage against Randy “The Natural” Couture, who had recently dropped down from heavyweight to light heavyweight and his first match out was no easy fight taking on Liddell.
Almost everyone seemed to discount Couture in the fight because he had hit a streak of bad luck losing his last two fights out against Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez, both for the heavyweight title. Although Couture was obviously outsized by the much larger opponents, so many people thought that he had finally hit the wall for a man facing 40 years of age. In a fight that shocked both fans and critics, Couture handled Liddell’s striking with ease and was able to take him down at will, something most of Liddell’s past opponents couldn’t do at all. With his win, Couture became champion and Liddell had to again rebuild himself back to a title shot.
Liddell was then asked to compete as the UFC’s representative at the highly publicized Pride Grand Prix for middleweights, their equivalent of the UFC’s light heavyweight division. In his first fight, Liddell took on Dutch kickboxing prodigy, Alistair Overeem, and in a fight that saw “The Iceman” take some good punishment he was able to back Overeem up towards the end of the fight and land some wicked shots that put him down, and with his latest knockout, Chuck Liddell poised himself as a semi-finalist in a tournament of champions. Fans were clamoring for a match between Liddell and Pride champion Wanderlei Silva, but instead were treated to resident bad boy, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson taking on fellow American Liddell. For only the third time in his career, Liddell lost to Jackson by TKO and went back to America and the UFC, ready to climb back to the top of the rankings. Liddell finally got his shot at Tito Ortiz in April of 2004, showing why the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” never wanted to face him in the octagon. Liddell came out blazing in the second round putting Ortiz on the defensive, rocking him with several shots, the last of which dropped Ortiz to the canvas, handing him a defeat and putting Liddell back on the top of the contender’s list in the UFC.
After a run as the coach on the highly successful “Ultimate Fighter” reality show, Liddell got his rematch with Randy Couture for the light heavyweight title. This time around, Liddell looked very ready for the fight and was able to do something that no other fighter had ever done against Couture…knock him out. Couture wasn’t able to get the takedown early as Liddell circled him and eventually got enough space to catch the Oregon native with a quick combination and in the end landing a bone shattering shot to Couture’s face, causing a stoppage and in doing so, Chuck Liddell was finally crowned light heavyweight champion.
In contrast to Liddell, MMA journeyman Jeremy Horn has traveled many roads to finally land back in the UFC. The last time fans set eyes on Horn in the octagon was in defeat, losing to Elvis Sinosic by armbar at UFC 30 back in 2001. Since that time Horn has been one of the most active fighters in all of MMA, working in pretty much every organization under the sun, except the UFC. Fans all over the world, but especially in America, have been asking for Horn’s return to the octagon for a very long time.
Horn is the true definition of a mixed martial artist who has traveled all over the world to find fights and stay active. Recently, Horn has been competing at 185lbs, cutting down from light heavyweight where he seemed outsized in a great many matches. No one would ever question the heart or skill of Jeremy Horn, whose overall record is hard to track down because he’s fought so many times, but sits around a 100 fights total for his career. Horn has never been one to take an easy fight, as his resume reads fights against everyone from Chuck Liddell to Ricardo Arona to David Loiseau to Forrest Griffin to Renato “Babalu” Sobral. And in between, fights against any number of up and comers that try to make a name taking on Jeremy Horn…most of them handed defeat by the way.
Now Jeremy Horn makes his return to the UFC, getting a title shot against Chuck Liddell at UFC 54. This fight has a lot of unknowns as both fighters are much different than the first time they fought in 1999. Liddell’s strategy hasn’t changed much since UFC 19 as he is still a dangerous striker who will look for every opportunity to get the knockout, but this time around, Liddell will step into the cage with Horn a very experienced fighter, now sitting with 19 professional fights to his credit. Liddell has taken on the very best in the world and is very anxious to wipe out another opponent that currently holds a win over him.
Jeremy Horn is also much more experienced since the last time he fought Liddell, but one of the toughest things to gauge about this fight is the fact that for the last few years, Horn has been competing at 185lbs. He was always a smaller light heavyweight fighter, walking around at 205lbs, versus most of his opponents who were cutting weight down from 220 or 225 just days before the fight. Horn has had success at both weight classes but it will be interesting to see how he approaches this fight, knowing that he will be facing a much larger opponent. Horn does have a few things leaning to his side coming into this fight. First, he has a mental edge knowing that he’s beaten Liddell already and whether it was 6 years or 6 minutes ago, having a victory over an opponent will always allow you an extra edge. Second, Jeremy Horn is one of the smartest and most highly trained fighters in the world today. Horn has always been a very cerebral fighter who can pick apart just about any opponents game plan and work it to his favor. Third, Horn will actually have time to prepare for this fight. Usually, Jeremy Horn is seen fighting about every 6 weeks or so, obviously not giving him very much preparation time for his next fight. Since this fight was announced at UFC 53 in June, Horn has been doing nothing but getting ready for his shot at Liddell. Held up in his training camp in Utah, Horn has been working at a feverish pace to prepare for his title shot coming next weekend.
Chuck Liddell will come into this fight much like he did when he faced Randy Couture some months ago; ready to hand his opponent the first knockout loss of his career. Everyone knows that Liddell has some of the best hands in all of MMA, but his wrestling skills are very solid and his sprawl to prevent takedowns is seen as possibly the best in the world. Liddell’s opponents over the last few years are probably the toughest fighters any one man has faced in that same time span. He always comes prepared for a battle and this fight will be no exception.
The key to the fight is whose game can be imposed first. Liddell will keep any fight standing for as long as it takes him to land the shot necessary to end the fight. Horn on the other hand will work from the very offset of the first round to get the fight to the ground where he has the advantage. On paper, Liddell is the big favorite if only because he has improved so much over the last few years and is seen as probably one of the top 2 or 3 pound for pound fighters in the world. Jeremy Horn has been out of the spotlight for a while now, plus he is jumping back up a weight class, something that is very tough to do these days.
Since his loss to Quinton Jackson, Chuck Liddell has rededicated himself to never under preparing for a fight. In his three losses, Liddell has looked out of place and bewildered as to how to win the fight. He was thrown off his game in all three fights, and after the initial offset, he never recovered. Another deciding factor in this fight is if it goes past the 2nd round how much will conditioning play a part. In his fight with Vernon White, Liddell landed shot after shot but still couldn’t end White’s night, and after about 3 minutes of the first round, Liddell looked almost winded. Horn prides himself on conditioning and if this fight goes into the 3rd or 4th round, that may very well be where he can pull out a submission.
For his first title defense, Chuck Liddell will look for redemption against Jeremy Horn, let’s just hope he doesn’t overlook his opponent or he may not get a 2nd title defense.